On Experiencing Colorblindness in VR: An Interview with Jan Horský

Tell us a little about yourself and your new VR application, Experience: Colorblindness, which, as we speak, has just been released today on Steam?

My name is Jan Horsky and I’m VR programmer and leader at iNFINITE Production, a VR content creation studio based in Prague. Experience: Colorblindness is a project we’ve created to make the world a bit of a better place as experiencing someone else’s struggles with VR makes you feel more emphatic and respectful towards them. XPC shows the world from a colorblind person’s perspective, featuring 3 scenes: a fruit shopping mini-game, an art gallery experience, and tests. It was under development since September 2016 as a project done in our spare time when we weren’t busy working for our clients.

Why do you believe VR is the best media platform for delivering the experience of color blindness?

While there are videos and pictures that shows what it’s like to be colorblind, only in VR you can actually experience it. It’s simply something not possible outside VR.

What inspired you to recreate the experience of color blindness for VR?

We created The Autism Simulator for a client back in 2016 and while I’m not really proud of that app, it gave me the idea of showing someone else’s world using VR. First, I wanted to focus on visual impairments as they’re well documented, easier to implement, and we can focus on the experience itself. We’ve created several internal prototypes of various color deficits and colorblindness made the most sense to explore more. For instance, we made an accurate simulation of short-sightedness, only to find out that the resolution of today’s VR headsets is so terrible that most settings don’t make any difference.

Your VR app included a supermarket scene with a lot of interactivity and even gamification? What made you decide on the supermarket experience? Was it related to your research for this app?

The first prototype of Colorblindness we had was on a city street with various elements to showcase colorblindness. One of those elements was a street shop with fruits. And while the entire prototype was scrapped, I knew I wanted to keep the fruits and the fruit mini-game was born from it. Later, when preparing the app for release, we built a full shop to be explored.

As I understand it, this is an educational app that shows normally-sighted people the experience of colorblindness. Have you found examples of VR being used to increase accessibility for people who have these types of visual impairments?

Not in present, even though I can see a future in that. The same way cellphones have built-in colorblind emulators for developers to be able to try their application as a colorblind person would see it. The same functionality can be added to runtimes of VR headsets (SteamVR and Oculus), giving VR developers a tool to test their app as a colorblind person. However, this is something for Valve and Oculus to consider and implement. Another thing would be when VR headsets allow pass-thru AR, then a filter can be applied to the image and we could essentially simulate colorblindness in real work and test various scenarios.

What is the future for Experience: Colorblindness and iNFINITE Production?

We’re planning at least one patch to address several issues, but there are no plans beyond that point and it all depends on reception and reactions, but we’re not planning any serious updates after that (but even this might change). iNFINITE Production is primarily a ‘for-hire’ Content studio, so we’ll continue working on projects for our clients as well as some internal projects, which are already underway.

Jan Horský of iNFINITE Production